Vietnam sends rocket launchers to the South China Sea

by Oliver Holmes / August 10, 2016 / The Guardian

Vietnam has fortified several islands it controls in the South China Sea with mobile rocket launchers able to strike Chinese military bases in the region, one of the most assertive moves in decades.

Diplomats and military officers told Reuters Hanoi had shipped the launchers from the Vietnamese mainland into positions on five bases in the Spratly islands in recent months. They said the launchers could be made operational, if needed, with rocket artillery rounds within two or three days.

The Guardian was unable to verify the report, which cited unnamed western officials, and Vietnam’s foreign ministry said the information was inaccurate.

Yet the report entrenches fears of militarisation and potential conflicts in the South China Sea, the most contentious issue in east Asia.

Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Japan have overlapping claims with China to islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea. The region is thought to have significant oil and gas reserves and is a route for roughly £3.17tn in trade.

The launchers are believed to be part of Vietnam’s “Extra” rocket artillery system recently acquired from Israel. They have a range of 150km (93 miles) and carry 150kg warheads that can attack multiple targets at once.

Last month, Beijing reacted angrily to an international legal case that it lost to the Philippines over contested reefs and atolls, increasing global diplomatic pressure on China to scale back military expansion in the area.

But Beijing instead appears to have continued building bases on islands it has reclaimed, and satellite images released on Wednesday show China has placed reinforced aircraft hangars on islands it controls.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)published recent satellite photographs showing the construction of the hangars on three reclaimed islands where Beijing has built military bases.

China landed a military transport plane in the South China Sea last month but the runways it completed this year have not yet been used to land military jets.Read more…

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